The surprising truth about “middle-aged spread”

Many people remember a time in their life when they could eat just about anything and not gain a single pound. (I’m not one of those people. I was overweight from childhood through college. And even now, I fight to stay trim and fit every day.)  

Of course, it’s easy to blame metabolic changes when bad habits start catching up with you later in life. But the truth is, those changes don’t quite happen how—or when—you might think.    

In fact, as a recent study shows, your metabolism stays pretty stable well into midlife…  

Metabolism peaks early   

First, let me ask: When do you think is the peak time for calorie burning?  

Would you assume the teenage years, or even your 20s? That’s what I would have assumed—after all, those are the years that most people recall being in their best shape.   

But get this… 

A team of scientists analyzed the average number of daily calories burned among a group of more than 6,600 people from 29 different countries. Ages ranged from one week old, all the way up to 95 years. 

They used a gold-standard urine test to measure metabolic rates. And they found that peak calorie burning takes place in infancy. In fact, by the time they turn one, babies are burning calories 50 percent faster for their body size than adults!  

(How is that fair!?) 

Granted, babies are growing rapidly during that first year—and much of this metabolic burst is attributable to that. But certainly not all of it. (For example, in this study, teenage growth spurts didn’t affect calorie needs, once researchers factored in body size.)   

Now, infants who don’t get enough nutrition during this critical phase are less likely to thrive, or to grow into healthy adults. But after that initial metabolic surge, metabolism dips by roughly three percent every year until we reach our 20s. 

And the surprising findings don’t stop there… 

Stable until 60 

Get this: Your metabolism generally stays stable well into your 50s. 

That’s hard to believe, I know. But when you think about middle-aged spread, you have to admit that there are many outside factors that come into play—changes in career, exercise and eating habits, stress levels, and so on.   

So, does that mean the middle-aged obesity problem really boils down to lifestyle? And that you—and only you—are to blame for that growing belly? 

Well, the data from this study suggests that our metabolisms don’t really start to decline again until after age 60. And even then, the slowdown is gradual—by less than one percent each year.   

If you do the math—which this research did—a person in their 90s needs 26 percent fewer calories each day than someone in midlife. That’s a significant change. But it also happens way later than conventional wisdom would suggest.  

Long story short: You are in control of your own health. At any age. 

The choices you make matter. And the earlier you start making consistently healthier choices, the better off you’ll be. So here’s a friendly reminder to start doing so… starting with adopting a healthy, balanced diet. 


“Metabolism changes with age, just not when you might think.” Science Daily, 08/12/2021. (